House Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring, and his massive campaign war chest might soon be up for grabs

Key Points
  • House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement may soon leave the Republican lawmaker's big store of campaign cash up for grabs.
  • The Ryan campaign will decide how to hand off the keys to its war chest, which is worth millions of dollars.
  • Ryan's campaign has more cash on hand than that of any other lawmaker in Congress.
House Speaker Paul Ryan announces retirement

House Speaker Paul Ryan's retirement, which comes after his momentous two-decade run as the representative for Wisconsin's 1st District, may soon leave his big store of campaign cash up for grabs, and many fellow Republicans in Congress will be eager to get their hands on it.

The Ryan campaign, one of the most prolific and battle-tested finance juggernauts in politics, will decide how to hand off the keys to a war chest worth millions of dollars, a Republican strategist close to leadership circles told CNBC.

Ryan's announcement that he won't seek another term comes after Team Ryan, a joint fundraising committee, reported it raised a record $11 million in the first quarter of 2018, according to a press release provided by the campaign on Tuesday.

Team Ryan also raised $55 million throughout the 2018 election cycle, according to the Federal Election Committee, with large portions of that total being transferred to the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC, a group dedicated to helping Republicans get elected to the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters

A separate Republican source close to Ryan, who declined to be named, told CNBC that the committee transferred more than $40 million to the NRCC, meaning that the funds could be used in other ways beyond just helping campaigns.

Kevin Seifert, Team Ryan's executive director, told CNBC in a statement that Ryan intends to assist Republicans running for House seats and will be traveling throughout the year with a goal of maintaining his party's majority in the chamber.

"Speaker Ryan is committed to retaining the House Majority and he plans to continue traveling on behalf of our members and candidates throughout the 2018 midterms," Seifert said. "He has an ambitious travel schedule planned for the months ahead and will keep touting our conservative reform agenda across the country," he added.

Separately, a campaign aide told CNBC that Team Ryan will continue to raise funds for the speaker's political action committee, Prosperity Action, and the NRCC, while continuing to host individual events around the country.

Ryan's independent campaign committee, Paul Ryan for Congress, is also a source of major campaign reserves for anyone running for public office. During the past year, the group raised in excess of $11 million and currently has more than $9 million on hand, the most for any lawmaker in the House, records from the Center for Responsive Politics show.

The campaign has already begun the process of refunding contributions, an aide told CNBC.

How the money could be split up

Where the money goes will come down to what the campaign wants to do with it, and there are two typical ways in which Ryan could divvy up the funds.

His campaign could offer to return donors' contributions, as it has started to do. If donors choose to decline the refund, it's up to the campaign to decide where the money goes, strategists said.

The Federal Election Commission makes this clear in its rules and regulations.

The Ryan campaign could also use the money to wind down offices, pay for moving expenses, pay committee staff and even give gifts to supporters, an FEC spokeswoman said.

The FEC representative also reinforced that the campaign can use the leftover money for "transfers to any national, state or local political party committee."

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call | Getty Images

The chairman of the NRCC, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, praised Ryan as a fighter for change and as a key leader in the battle to pass a comprehensive tax reform package last year.

"Speaker Ryan's leadership has transformed our nation," Stivers said. "His vision to reform our broken tax code sparked a new era of American prosperity and confidence."

But Stivers also expressed optimism that Ryan would pitch in with the GOP midterm efforts this year.

"I'm thankful for all Paul has done for the NRCC and am confident he has set us on a path to keep our majority," he added. "Paul is also a man of follow-through and I know he will continue to be an asset to us this fall."

— Graphic by CNBC's John Schoen